1. The Jam Handy

    The last Focus Night was on July 19th at the Jam Handy, an incredible old converted film production studio on Grand Boulevard.  It used to be run by a guy named Jam Handy, an Olympic-breaststroke-swimmer-turned-filmmaker who produced GM’s training videos and commercials in the middle of the 20th century.  Here’s an interesting film he made about how great it was to be a Detroit policeman in 1951:


    The current owner of the building, a really nice guy named Sebastian, has turned it into a theatre and performance space, and the soft lighting, hardwood floors, and peaceful atmosphere made for a rich Focus Night.  David Hall and Brian LaBeuf showed a film about a church in Detroit that gives exorcisms.  Bill Corrigan executed some performance art involving strings, knives and cigarettes.  

    At one point I thought he might cut his own hand off, but he ended up not doing that.  Travelling filmmaker Sam Wolson showed a movie about Venezuela’s first Public TV Station, and I showed a film I’m editing about a scientist named David Pitts and the creature he studies, the Daphnia.

    I was really happy about all the conversations that took place around these movies.  The space was amazing, the art that got shown was across-the-board engaging and provocative, and everyone who showed up to participate was generous with their thoughts and feedback.  Many thanks to everyone who showed up.  We’ll see you at the next one, Focus Night Variety Hour on September 14th as part of Scrummage Fest 2012!

    In closing, here are some drawings by my friend Alex Hoxie, who was the cinematographer for the Daphnia film.


  2. Focus Night 5 Recap

    Sunday, May 6 was a remarkable Focus Night.  Instead of the usual music set, there was a rock opera about trash by Lenny Stoofy, complete with trash costumes and amplified potato chips. At the end of his set, Lenny announced that there was going to be a full-fledged Trash play at some point.  Kudos, Alex.  The set had my dad doubled over in laughter in his seat.  Can’t wait to see it taken a step further.

    Morgan Myers, a native Pennsylvanian but now Detroiter, premiered the first version of her documentary project, tentatively called “Fracking Paradise”, about the effects of natural gas drilling in rural PA on a couple of organic farmers. It was beautiful, it was haunting, it was really sad in a lot of ways.  There were lots of questions afterwards, and we found out that natural gas “fracking” is coming to Michigan really, really soon.  In fact it’s already here.

    We heard a Skaz Reading by Edmund Zagorin.  Three short pieces that covered very little time, but delved deep into the details of the scene, and the feelings expressed therein.

    I showed a new segment from “Detroit Threat Management”.  It was a short clip, showing a sort of day in the life of the VIPERS, in which they travel to Port Huron to teach a self-defense class at a YMCA.  No new characters were introduced, but I chose to show this clip because I think it illustrates perfectly Commander Brown’s philosophy on the police, and on self-defense in general.  It shows what kind of work they do, and the kind of people who hire them.

    From now on, Focus Night is going to be a once-monthly event.  Thanks so much to everyone who has come out and made these events come to life, from musicians to filmmakers to participants in the audience.  We’ll see you on July 3rd.


  3. Detroit Threat Management has a preview!


  4. Focus Night #4

    Focus Night #4 is coming to the Circa Saloon.

    Sunday, April 22nd at 8pm.

    Come see

    -a new segment of Detroit Threat Management

    -a film segment by Nick George about music in Indonesia

    -a film segment by Iain Maitland called “MLK Crusaders” about high school musicians

    -Music by Hlep from Ann Arbor

    See you there.


  5. Focus Night #3

    Focus Night #3 was on Monday.  We packed Nancy Whiskey’s to the brim for another evening of music and film, and while all the last-minute tech scrambling was nerve-racking as usual, it was an incredible night.  The Japanese Cowboys played with special guests the Drinkard Sisters and Matthew Polzin.  They brought a mellow, atmospheric country feeling to the house, and by the end of their set, I was feeling the love by the time we screened the newest clip from Detroit Threat Management.


    I showed a character sketch of 116 Cobra, or Chris, a good-natured guy armed with a loaded pistol and a tube of chapstick.  We got to know Chris outside of his work with the Detroit Threat Management Center, filming him eating dinner at his sister’s house and then going with her to the bar.  I believe that these moments of subtle human interaction and often awkward family dynamics break down the assumptions and expectations that we have when we first see the paramilitary outfits and coded language of the VIPERS.  These scenes are important to me as a filmmaker, and the folks attending Focus Night had a great response to Chris.  These, to me, are the cracks in the narrative, the ambiguous nooks and crannies, that allow the viewer to slip inside the story and participate in making the meaning.

    After Detroit Threat Management and a glass of Tullamore Dew on the house, Radiant Husk took the stage and played some brilliant ambient noise to the accompaniment of some haunting images projected in 16mm film.  While watching, I had no idea what I was seeing.  It looked like it could be digital animation of stars zooming by in the sky, but the quality of movement was so organic that I knew it must be something filmed from life.  Later, at Lafayette Coney Island, the guys from Radiant Husk told me that what we were seeing was a film of dust-motes floating in a shaft of light, shot with a macro lens.  For those who don’t know, a macro lens is like a microscope you attach to the end of a camera.  I’ve never seen a better use of a macro lens for film, and I hope to see more from them.

    Thanks to everyone who came out to Nancy Whiskey to this special edition of Focus Night.   On Sunday, April 22nd, it’s back to Circa Saloon.  More details to come.



  6. Focus Night 2: Recap

    Last night at Circa Saloon was a lot of fun.  Thanks to all who came out and supported the event, focused hard and asked questions after.  Also big ups to Brian Burke who held it down as a one-man-band before and after the movie.

    I showed what is essentially the first quarter of the film, in which Threat Management is introduced and we meet Lt. Commander Cotrell, the second-in-command to Commander Brown when I started the project.  Cotrell was the man who first answered the door at the DTM Center when I knocked in the fall of 2009, mildly curious about this black-and-chrome compound on the Detroit river.  He brought me in, took me to a wall of guns, took one down, and handed it to me.  “Point this gun at me,” he said.  I refused at first, but, salesman that he is, Cotrell insisted that I allow him to demonstrate firsthand the powers I was dealing with.  When I begrudgingly aimed the gun at him, he grabbed my wrist and twisted, depriving me of the weapon and giving me a look as if to say “You weren’t expecting that, were you?”  And so began the two-year journey of “Detroit Threat Management”, the documentary.  Cotrell is no longer with the organization, and his parting is a part of the film’s story.

    We had a Q&A after the screening last night, which turns out to have been a good idea. A lot of people had a lot of questions about the organization and the film. There was much discussion of the problem of privatizing public safety, questions of accountability and oversight, and what the DTM group represents in the midst of what looks like a trend of privatization and headlines lately about miscarriages of vigilante justice.

    Hopefully we can talk a bit more after the next screening.

    I’m looking forward to the next Focus Night, at Nancy Whiskey, where there will be another filmmaker showcased along with a new clip of “Detroit Threat Management”, and where Ben Christensen, aka Dakota Bones, and his crew, will be providing us with some gentle country ballads.  More info to come.


  7. Brian Burke will be doing his thing Burkestyle at the next Focus Night.  Give him a listen, won’t you?

  8. Our second Focus Night is Sunday, March 25th at Circa Saloon at 8PM.  This is one hour later than last time, because it’s gorgeous outside and the sun goes to bed later, and we need it to be dark to watch movies.

    This week will feature a clip from Detroit Threat Management that goes indepth into what they do in the city of Detroit, as well as introducing Cobra, aka Chris, a soft-spoken joker with a loaded gun in his belt and a couple sassy sisters at home.


  9. One Focus Night Down, ∞ More To Go

    Last night was a lot of fun.  We had a standing-room only crowd at the Circa Saloon (granted, the table and chair arrangement pretty much guaranteed us standing-room only, but there was a great turnout nonetheless), a dark and beautiful set by Horatio Clam, and I showed off a little bit of the Detroit Threat Management doc.  

    Thanks to everyone who came out and supported us on our first go-around.  Congratulations to Horatio Clam on an incredible debut performance, and big thanks to Circa Saloon for hosting us.  See you all in two Sundays!

    Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peak of my good friend and fellow filmmaker Jack Mayer’s newest project in Chicago.  It involves layers of video and live theatre performance and live music, and just overall looks like a big chewy mouthful of fun:

  10. Preview for “I Am A Rocket Scientist”, a Live Movie Event put on by some friends in Chicago